Excellently preserved, complete crossbow from 2,200 years ago found at Terracotta Warrior site
In an astonishing find, archaeologists in China located a 2,200-year-old crossbow in pristine condition buried with the vast army of terracotta warriors at the excavation pit at Xi’an, Shaanxi province.
Reported by news site China.org to be the most complete crossbow found to date at the site, it has a 145 centimeter (57 inch) arch and, incredibly, the bow string remains intact and measures 130 centimeters (51 inches) long. Researchers believe the string is made of animal tendon rather than fabric, which would have degraded and disappeared long ago.
Many of the weapons that were buried with the terracotta army were, just like this one, fully functioning and military grade weapons at the time, as disclosed in an Ancient Origins report in 2017.
The crossbow may have been first invented in ancient China. Some historians believe the Chinese had even already invented the first crude crossbows as early as 2,000 BC. This is based on certain bone, stone and shell artifacts that have been interpreted as crossbow triggers. More conclusive evidence of ancient Chinese crossbows, however, comes from around the 6th century BC, if not earlier.
Shen Maosheng, head of the archaeological team which made the discovery says that two wooden sticks, called Qing, were found alongside the crossbow. There Qing were thought to help maintain and transport the crossbows thousands of years ago, as noted in ancient records. Expert opinion could never be confirmed until now, with the discovery of the intact mechanisms.
The most complete ancient crossbow to date was discovered in the terracotta army pit one in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. Credit: Chinanews.com
Shen tells China.org, “When we dusted off the sticks, we found three holes equidistant from each other and concluded that they were probably used to hang up ropes that fastened the crossbows when they were not in use.
It was a great way to keep the arch and string in shape and thus maintain their power in the long run. Besides, Qing was practical to help fix the crossbows during transportation.”
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An ancient terracotta warrior. Source: BigStockPhoto
The archaeological site was discovered by chance in 1974, and more than 8,000 life-size clay warriors were uncovered. The clay army lies in the greatest mausoleum in the world, and archaeologists theorize that it was meant to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in his journey after death. Each soldier was created with unique characteristics, given individual armor and weaponry, and was placed according to rank. Horses and other objects were also discovered.
In 2013, scientists from the University College London and the Terracotta Army Museum reproduced arrowheads from 200 B.C. when the Terracotta Army was built, and tested them with a crossbow of that period. The results showed that the arrows easily pierced through the armor used in second century B.C. in China, and would have been capable of inflicting a fatal blow.
“These crossbows were two millennia ahead of their time,” said Mike Loades, historian and expert in ancient weapons.
A kneeling terra cotta archer, with hands posed to hold a bow. Juan Felipe Rubio/Flickr
University College London notes the producers of the UK documentary “Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors” wrote on the condition of the weapons as revealed through excavations. They wrote: “Amongst the many new findings, the film reveals the true extent of the site and number of warriors and that the weapons carried by the warriors were full military grade, rather than replicas: they were designed to kill as efficiently in the afterlife as in this one.
New insights into how the figures were made, including revolutionary 3D computer modelling of the warriors' heads, challenges the traditional explanation and changes our understanding of how sophisticated technology and society were in ancient China.”
The well-preserved crossbow sheds light on ancient weaponry and warfare from thousands of years ago. Scientists are looking to fully examine the artifact and establish its shooting range.
As the site is nowhere near fully excavated, it is expected that other astonishing finds will be revealed about the terra cotta warriors and ancient China.
Featured image: Bronze crossbow similar to one recently excavated from the terra cotta army pit at Xi’an, Shaanxi province. This weapon was from a war chariot excavated from the Tomb of The First Emperor, Lintong, Shaanxi Province Qin Dynasty, circa 210 B.C. Representational image only. Credit: Oberlin College of Arts & Sciences
By Liz Leafloor